It wasn’t until after I was done being a hormone-crazed teenager, went away to school, and got married, that I realized what an awesome person my mom was. Actually, I began to see her as the very special soul she was when I discovered a letter she hid in my suitcase after she and Dad left, having settled me into my dorm room my freshman year in college. It contained heartfelt, wonderful words of encouragement, expressing how proud she was and how God will always be there for me…just everything a daughter leaving home for the first time would want to hear from her mother. I felt SO LOVED, and I loved my mother…SO MUCH.
So my best friend, my Mom, was there from then on (she always was, I just didn’t realize it) to help me move into my first apartment and then my first home, experiencing all the fun projects that come with that. We never stopped when she was visiting, except to have a glass of wine now and then.
Mom was the spiritual leader in our family. She grew up in a dysfunctional family and had to seek God and religion on her own. Basically raised by her grandmother, Mom helped to raise her four younger siblings. She began walking to church at age 14 and took an interest in the Catholic faith. In fact, Mom had her First Communion on her wedding day. Thus, we were raised Catholic. She had faith. Boy, did she ever have faith.
Mom cried and hugged me through some difficult years after I received a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis when I was 23. I had many surgeries, as well as years of infertility. So many times she prayed to God to take all my pain and give it to her. She was there for all but a few of my 18 surgeries, many times taking her vacation time to do so. She helped me live out this scripture: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)
My twins, Michael and Erin, arrived in 1995. I don’t know what I would have done without her. She came in to town for long stretches of time and basically read my mind regarding everything I needed or that needed to be done – she was an angel.
My story of mother loss began in 2000 when my Mom was diagnosed with colon cancer. I was five hours away, married, and raising 5 year-old twins. I remember coming home to be with her and my dad for her first surgery. It was April 1, 2000. Up until they wheeled her away to the OR, I kept telling her it was a sick April Fool’s joke.
Soon after her surgery, she began chemotherapy treatments, and did really well for several years. During this time I witnessed her faith in action, coupled with courage and humor. What a role model she was to so many people, never complaining a bit. Throughout all that she doted and loved on my kids. She was an awesome grandmother! Boy, did she ever love my kids.
When the cancer spread to her liver a few years later, the local doctors told her there was nothing else they could do. We brought her to Cincinnati and found a surgeon who ended up saving her life. It was a miracle! We were going to have her for so many more years! “Thank you, Jesus!” was her response in the recovery room. It was awesome.
After this victory, we saw how fragile life really is, and as a result, Gary and I decided to try and have another child. Amazingly, miraculously, we got pregnant the first month we tried. Our miracle baby, Will, was born in October 2001. Little did I know then that Will was going to get the short end of the stick – he wouldn’t grow up with memories of how awesome Grandma Mary was.
Yes, we did have her for a long time after that, but not without sacrifice. Eventually, to keep relentless tumors from getting bigger, she began weekly chemo treatments. This went on for four years. The chemo fried her brain. At first it was a little forgetfulness and repeating things. Our conversations had become short and sweet, primarily about the weather and the dog. Sometimes (SO out of character for her), she would ask about the kids, and wonder how old they were now. It made me so sad.
The point when I actually felt like I lost her was in 2007. We were on our spring break vacation. My birthday was also that week. I waited all day for her call. It never came. For the first time in my life my MOM forgot my birthday. I know now that that day really changed me. I realized that she wasn’t ever going to get better. I had lost her. I was so heartbroken.
In January of 2010, the doctors told us that Mom had three months to live. My three siblings and I literally took care of everything. One of us was with her twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, caring not only for her but my dad that had recently fallen and broken his ankle.
In the midst of this God was my rock. I joined a women’s Bible study. The study and this special group of women was exactly what I needed. God even brought me Mary Marcum, who, as a motherless daughter, ministered to me. Now we both are facilitators for the Motherless Daughters class. Over the next few months, I learned how to listen to the spirit and find comfort in the midst of watching my mother slowly die. I saw and felt God’s presence like I’d never known. He gave me so many gifts. The most precious was a special time with my mom one early morning. During breakfast God literally pushed me from behind, as if to say, “Now!” and I had the most amazing conversation with my mom about our faith. For one whole hour, her mind was clear as a bell, laughing, crying and hugging. And then slowly, slowly, she faded away again and went back to bed. That was the last real conversation I had with Mom, yet the greatest gift I’ve ever received.
On Mom’s 73rd birthday, Gary and I left for Ireland. I knew when I left her three days earlier that I would never see her again. My whole family encouraged me to go on this once-in-a-lifetime trip to celebrate Gary’s brother’s 50th birthday. I know Mom would’ve wanted me to go too. She went to heaven five days into our trip. I thought all I wanted was to be with her when she died. But now I believe with all my heart that God, in His infinite power, grace, and LOVE put me in the right place. God completely orchestrated that whole week. It was the most peaceful and spiritual experience of my life. Why? God held my hand the entire trip showing me His presence every single day. It was a time to be cleansed and to celebrate mom’s life. Gary was there with me too – FOR me, in a way he could never have been had we been at home with our hectic lives. I thank God for that too. A verse that God gave me during that time still calms me: “I am still confident of this: that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord. Be strong, take heart, and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:13-14) Its meaning became so clear to me after she died. The land of the living for mom is in heaven and the land of the living for me is to remain here on earth and find joy in Him.
In the fall of 2010 I took the Motherless Daughters class and although it was very difficult at times, it was also a safe place to heal, cry, and be among other women going through similar experiences. We were in the second week when God called me to teach this class. I just knew. I am a Christian. I gave my life to Christ on February 20, 2011, and was baptized as well. Nothing has been the same, and I already know that in death there is life. Many people don’t open their eyes to see the precious in the worthless (Jeremiah 15:19), but I am so blessed to see it so clearly now, so soon after her passing. I would have never met the beautiful motherless daughters who have become an essential part of my life and my healing. We’ll be forever connected by a club we didn’t want to join, but one God had planned for us. Mom would be so proud.